Divorce in Singapore: Changes to the Women’s Charter
DIVORCE. If you are married and reading this, would you shudder and shy away from the word?
What was once considered shameful and only spoken about in quiet whispers is now a widely accepted notion in our community. As a society, we have grown to accept that if a marriage is not working out, it is simply best to part ways and move on, instead of expecting unhappy partners to remain shackled to each other for life.
Similarly, the recent shift in Singaporean household dynamics also reflects the change in our society’s mindset as to how a normal marriage now can be. We applaud our Singaporean wives with their extraordinary abilities to soar to great heights, and admire husbands who give up their jobs and choose to care for their children.
However, when marriages don’t work out and end up in Divorce, the state of our vulnerable children usually ends up slipping through the cracks. In an already overwhelming world, they now need to grapple with various questions: Why are my parents living in different houses? Why are there no more family dinners? Why can I only see my Dad or Mum on Sundays at 3pm?
It is thus heartening to see the Government, the Family Justice Courts and the Ministry of Social and Family Development come together to make changes to the social and legal fabric of our society to cater to the different types of family issues.
On 29 February 2016, the Parliament passed the Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill. Amongst the most notable changes are:
1. Maintenance for incapacitated husbands
Currently, under the Women’s Charter, maintenance may be ordered for children, wives and ex-wives. The Courts would take into account various factors such as the financial circumstances of both parents, the needs of the children or the ex-wife and any other relevant factor before determining a maintenance quantum.
The new changes to the Women’s Charter propose that spousal maintenance may also be ordered for husbands or ex-husbands who are incapacitated and unable to work and maintain themselves. The Courts would still have to take into account various other factors such as the wife’s financial circumstances, the parties’ respective needs etc before making a decision on maintenance.
This is clearly a landmark step towards having the Women’s Charter provide some concrete and basic form of gender equality. In the spirit of marriage commitment, spouses or ex-spouses are to be legally obliged to care for their incapacitated partner.
Click on next page to find out what are the other changes in the Women's Charter that could impact you in case of a divorce in Singapore.
2. Mandatory Parenting Programme1
To ensure that the Courts and all divorce proceedings remain child-centric, the amendments to the Women’s Charter will require divorced parties to complete a mandatory parenting programme before filing for divorce. This is especially important in cases when parties are unable to agree on issues surrounding their children’s custody, care and control.
The Courts would also have the power to direct parties to attend parenting or family support programmes at any time during the divorce proceedings. Such programmes would cover issues that would affect the children such as housing and school care arrangements; it would also teach parties how to co-parent positively.
We applaud the fact that such parenting programmes will be made mandatory. Parents need to be made aware of the practical implications of divorce and its effects on their children. This would hopefully make them realise that the children are going through the same divorce as well.
In the spirit of being child-centric, the Family Justice Courts have also introduced a panel of Child Representatives, where the Courts or the parents themselves can appoint a Child Representative lawyer to give a young child his “voice” in contentious child custody proceedings. The appointed Child Representative would spend time with the child, request for reports and hold meetings with parties who interact with the Child and then present an objective assessment of what would be best for the Child.
In a dynamic and fast-paced society with a multitude of personalities like Singapore, complex family issues will always arise. Whilst us parents are embroiled in the nitty-gritty of an emotionally-wrenching and mentally exhausting divorce, it is easy to forget that our children are also reeling from the same emotions we are facing. When we parents fail to protect them from the grim realities of life, it is heartening to know that the law is there to cushion any blows that the children may face, to ensure that they still are able to grow and flourish in a balanced and well-rounded environment.
Ms Gloria James-Civetta has been appointed by the Family Justice Courts and the Singapore Mediation Centre as a Family Mediator, Child Representative lawyer, Parenting Coordinator and Collaborative Family Practitioner. For more information on divorce and children related issues, please contact Ms. Gloria James-Civetta and her team of lawyers at:
The article has been authored by: Siti Nurul Hajar